THE SPINE SEPTEMBER 16, 2010
For more than a year, President Obama and his whole State Department team had been trumpeting our diplomacy--both in the United Nations and through intermediaries--to stop Iran's march to nuclear nirvana. There was much pretense in the effort, what with every rebuff by China (and other less powerful but more portentous states) treated by the White House and Foggy Bottom as another step to the grand agreement. Of course, this never happened.
In fact, the behavior of China turns out to be the key to Tehran's petro-independence, which is the very basis of the atomic adventures.
Ilan Berman, an expert on Chinese-Iranian relations, lays out for us in this piece from Forbes the dynamics of the maneuver.
[T]he push to isolate Iran economically may end up being undermined by a key global actor. China's leaders may have reluctantly gone along with the latest round of Security Council sanctions passed this summer. Yet, even as other foreign stakeholders have constricted their financial stakes in Iran, Beijing has done the opposite.
In July, Iran's Oil Ministry announced that it had reached a sweeping, $40 billion deal with China to revitalize its petroleum refining industry. That agreement reportedly includes plans for financing the construction of a new gasoline refinery in southern Iran, as well as an overhaul of Iran's aging Abadan refining facility. At the same time, Beijing is negotiating with Iran to build a $2 billion railway linking the Iranian capital of Tehran with the cities of Arak, Malayer, Hamedan, Kermanshah and Khosravi. China is even said to be working on a "western railway" that would link the PRC to the Mediterranean via Central Asia, southwest Asia and the Levant. Such a transportation corridor would, by necessity, traverse Iranian territory, physically connecting the Iranian regime with Syria, Lebanon and Pakistan, among other nations—and reinforcing Iran's trade relationships in the process. So pernicious and potentially damaging are these developments that the European Union's new foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, recently visited the PRC to publicly urge the Chinese government not to fill the void left by Western companies fleeing Iran, lest it undermine the "cohesion" of international sanctions.
In the narrative, by the way, we meet again the facilitator of the Sudan-Darfour enormity. Welcome back to your evil doings: the China National Offshore Oil Corporation for whom, by the way, Chas Freeman used to work. But who remembers him?